We live in a time where technology seems to have reached hyper drive or warp speed, which ever sci-fi genre you like will work. It seems as if we have a series of mega-trends before us ranging from Cloud to Big Data to Robotics, to name but a few. Every major tech company seems to be hopping aboard. The technology sector is notorious for creating these type of panics, god forbid we miss the next over-hyped trend. In some instances the big players seems to want to tackle them all, be it Microsoft, Google, Facebook or Amazon. At other points in time it is a Billionaires men’s club with Jeff Bezos or Paul Allen funding some pie in the sky idea. But maybe it is bigger than they all think and as complex as it all seems maybe it is being made too complex. We have before us a lot of “big things” – we have the Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data, Cloud, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence etc.. All these trends driving tremendous change in society, in how we will live our day-to-day lives. Is it wise to focus on one or will we need to focus on all. From a company perspective it may be wise to place bets with just one or two of the big emerging trends, for the larger players they will, and may have to, tackle them all. One thing is clear in my mind and that is they are all converging into one it what will be called, “The Great Convergence”.
Convergence is one of those industry overused terms. Not long ago we talked about digital convergence. First our music went digital with the advent of the compact disc. Our computer networks were already digital. Than communications went digital as we moved from analog to new services like Voice over IP. In addition to voice we had SMS, email and a host of other forms of digital communications. We had debates in the halls of congress as our television went digital. How would we support all those old televisions? As is almost always the case the advances in technology moved so fast it just swept over all of us like a tidal pool. These debates and changes, which in reality were not that long ago, now seem like ancient history. We now take these things for granted as we use services like Skype, WeChat and Netflix. Like so many things in technology they just burst upon us and before we know it, the terms surrounding them and their use become part of our day-to-day living. Think back to the washing machine, there was a world before the washing machine. Hundreds of years went by with women washing clothes in a river or a tub. Now no more. However with tech it no longer can be measure in decades or years, the change happens very quickly and then in some instances it is gone (think of the FAX machine).
If we look at the emerging trends, the best way to visualize them is as a bunch of tributaries all feeding into a massive river like the Mississippi River (I purposely avoided the term Amazon river for obvious reasons). One small river would be IoT, which would capture data from every device on the planet and feed into a mega data repository. This “Big Data” would be centralized in a distributed database in the Cloud, from which we would perform complex analytics. Other tributaries would be robotics, which would spawn more data. Drones capturing data from the sky. Vehicles capturing data from the road. More humanoid devices wandering the streets and buildings capturing more data, perhaps observing human behavior and uploading that data. As AI improves, these bots would start making decisions and based on the results if the decision uploading that data. All converging and feeding Mark Twain’s, mighty Mississippi.
The days of gigabytes and petabytes are behind us we pass through exabyte and zettabytes and move right into a yottabyte. As quantum computing takes off we can analyze data that used to take years down into minutes or even seconds. A new form of computing will have emerged making our lives easier and yet more complex within the wink of an eye. Algorithms that once took decades to solve not solved in minutes. Predictive modeling will become more sophisticated. We already live in an environment where online shopping s constantly analyzing our buying habits and trying to make recommendations based these habits. The immense amount of data once utilized will change how we live. Capturing data has become routine, the ability to analyze that data and act upon it will fundamentally alter our lives.
At times we may squirm hearing all this, but technology is like a tidal wave, once it has garnered momentum it is just a matter of time before it comes crashing down on those in its wake. We fret over security and privacy even as we willingly give it up to have our iPhone locate us wherever we may be. You may not want people knowing where you are but once captured that data is stored somewhere. It can all seem so overwhelming but than what did you think self and immediate gratification would be? Despite what biblical scholars may debate, paradise was never going to be free. There are major positives coming through, in particular in health care as there may be alight at the end of the tunnel. In the coming decades we may cure cancer. We will have a greater ability to monitor our own health. We will have our current state of life measured in real-time. We will be a part of the network, not separated physically but willingly opting into the digital world. All you will have to do is hit the “OK”button.
The doomsayers now have a voice that only grows louder by the day. They have been around for a while, as in humanities entire existence. However now some of the areas traditionally reserved for science fiction novels and films. As devices become more intelligent and AI improves the question of humanities future existence will become more pervasive. In education we push for more STEM funding seeing that as the future of our economy while deriding the humanities as less important. Part of it is simply our competitive nature in the US as we cannot fathom the idea of some other nation doing things better than us. We make sacrifices rather easy in order to push ourselves to the forefront. The Great Convergence is upon us. Like it or not we have opted in. We will move forward regardless of the consequences. In great part because we cannot help ourselves. We more or less created the oil industry and all its environmental catastrophes. As our nation grew so did our appetite for energy. Now that the demand price for oil has taken a downturn we see the impact in our 401k plan as so much of our economy is based on energy. The 20th century created that much like the 21st century.
Good Night and Good Luck
Hans Henrik Hoffmann January 26, 2016